Growing Concerns for Religious Minorities in Myanmar
12 Sep 2014
As issues over the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Myanmar persist, particularly the discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) concludes a fact-finding mission to the country, confirming concerns over violations of religious freedom.
The past weeks have seen a renewed interest globally over the discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities in Myanmar. The issue has been brought to the fore with the recent statement by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, alluding to the oppression of Muslims in the country - what this might mean for the Rohingya Muslims, how Buddhist extremists might react to the news, and how the government and religious leaders could now really open the debate about interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
We have also seen preliminary results from the Myanmar census, which has again drawn attention to the absence of the Rohingya Muslims on the census form, and there have been recent reports from various organisations of the thousands fleeing the country to escape religious and ethnic persecution, only to end up refugee camps.
The USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the U.S. government.
Ongoing discrimination against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State
Following their recent fact-finding trip to Myanmar in August 2014, the USCIRF reported back and issued a Factsheet on 2 September 2014 documenting their findings. The visit confirmed their concerns about religious and ethnic minorities and in particular the ongoing discrimination against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. It also confirmed the reason why Myanmar is designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. State Department for severe religious freedom violations, something that the USCIRF has recommended for many years.
The mission was led by Commissioners from the organisation who met with a range of government officials, as well as ethnic and religious groups, NGOs and representatives of political parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
- The visit not only confirmed USCIRF's concerns about religious and ethnic minorities and the ongoing discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, but also that it is right for Myanmar to belong on the list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC);
- USCIRF has expressed concerns about limitations on religious freedom for everyone – majority Buddhists and minority non-Buddhists – and welcomed the recent release of prisoners of conscience, easing of restrictions on freedom of expression and other encouraging developments.
- The visit confirmed concerns about serious and substantial discrimination committed against minority religious faiths that have been imposed by law, regulation and practice.
- The city of Meiktila has five camps for displaced persons: three for Muslims, with a total population of more than 3,000, and two for Buddhists, with more than 800 residents.
- The camps in Meiktila were established following violence in March 2013 that resulted in the destruction of 1,500 to 2,400 homes, shops and religious building and the displacement of more than 11,000 residents, both Muslim and Buddhist. District officials refer to these dwellings as "rescue camps."
- The USCIRF received reports during the visit of abuses committed against Rohingya Muslims. In particular, the Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine State has experienced systematic, large-scale and egregious abuses of human rights that have resulted in deaths, injuries, displacement, denial of basic health and other services, denial of freedom of movement, and denial of the right to a nationality.
- In addition to the extreme poverty that has negatively affected all communities and faiths residing in Rakhine State, Rohingya Muslims face discrimination, abuse and violence of such degree and scope that their situation is particularly dire.
This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
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